Interview: David Oyelowo, 96 Minutes


We got a chance to sit down with David Oyelowo, who plays the lone parental figure in recent SXSW favorite 96 Minutes. Oyelowo, a native Brit who now lives and works in Hollywood, has played a lot of different and interesting characters over the years, and though you might not know his name, you’ll find you recognize him from everything from The Help to Rise of the Planet of the Apes.


You play the savior in 96 Minutes in a couple of ways. Is that what attracted you to this role?
Well, while I’m not averse to playing a savior, I’m really more interested in roles that defy expectations, defy preconceptions. Duane, the character I played, is struggling to get out of his socio economic status, just like the two young boys. He’s the only present parental voice, and your initial expectations from looking at him are different from what he turns out to be; he defies your expectations.

The film is based on a real story ­–­ was your character a real person?
Well, none of the characters are real. The film was based on actual events, yes, but it used them as inspiration, and created fiction around the story.

You do a great American accent, and have done in other films. Was it hard to add that a little bit of the Georgia twang?
Well, I don’t want to say it was easy, but I like to keep my ears open whenever I go to a location, so I really immersed myself in the sounds. I found a guy in Atlanta who actually ran the BBQ in Atlanta, and listened to him and used him as materical for Duane.

So Duane was based on a real person, after all.
[Laughs] I suppose he has basis in the real world, but he didn’t experience the events in the film.

Do you have a favorite part of the film?
Well, of the entire film, I think the stuff in the car was really compelling and intense. Aimee [Lagos] was able to get a lot of drama out of four people driving around in a car.
My favorite part to do, there’s a moment toward the end when Duane phones his nephew. That wasn’t in the original script, but Aimee and I came up with the idea, that as a parent that’s what Duane would want to do when he sees a young person in trouble, is get in contact with the children he loves. I think it really speaks to parenthood, and the fears all parents experience.


You take a lot of roles that show different facets of the African American experience, this role included, as well as in Red Tails and The Help, is that a choice that you have consciously worked toward, or did the scripts just sort of pan out that way? How does it feel to be a Brit playing so many different aspects of African American culture?
I don’t really set out to take roles that speak to the African American experience, per se, but I live and work in Los Angeles, so those are the roles that are available. Before, I did a lot of theater in Britain and played all sorts of other characters. But when I choose a role, I’m usually material driven. I go for roles I can believe in.
[Laughs] But I suppose I do have a lot of upcoming African American experience roles upcoming, like The Butler, where I play the butler of the White House, Lee Daniels’ the Paper Boy, about a death row inmate, and Middle of Nowhere. You’re right, I do have a lot of African American experience roles coming up.

Speaking of roles you can believe in, a project of yours I’m excited for is the upcoming Lincoln. Who do you play, and is Steven Spielberg an icon for you?
Yes, of course, he’s absolutely an icon. Not only that, but I got to work with Daniel Day Lewis, who is one of my favorite American actors.

Did you guys get to hang out?
Well, you don’t do a lot of “hanging out” with Daniel Day Lewis on set, he’s incredibly dedicated, and in character the whole time.

So, in way, you got to hang out with Abraham Lincoln, which is kind of cooler.
[Laughs] I suppose I did.